Global insight

Cargo growth declined last year at major hub airports

Cargo growth declined at major hub airports last year

GLOBAL trade tensions are being blamed for the dip in air cargo volumes that passed through the world’s hub airports last year, the trade association Airports Council International (ACI) World reveals.

Its collected data shows that the airfreight market’s year-end growth figure of 3.2 per cent is a significant contrast to the much stronger year of growth achieved in 2017, writes Thelma Etim.

The slow-down came amidst a backdrop of global trade tension between the United States and several of its closest trade partners, notes ACI.

Total volumes at the 20 busiest airports – representing 42 per cent of all global air cargo throughput – grew by a modest 1.3 per cent as they handled a combined 51 million tonnes of cargo. These figures show a noticeable downward trend, given freight volumes rose markedly by 7.7 per cent just a year before, in 2017.

Hong Kong Airport remains the world’s largest air cargo hub, handling more than five million tonnes of cargo in 2018, with its volume growing by 1.4 per cent.

The FedEx hub of Memphis Airport is in second place, with growth of 3.1 per cent, Shanghai Airport is third, despite a decline in freight volumes in 2018 of 1.5 per cent in comparison with 2017, a busy year in which its throughput grew by 11.2 per cent.

This decline clearly illustrates that demand has generally softened, says the trade association.

In fourth place is South Korea’s Incheon with one per cent growth. Alaska’s Anchorage is in fifth place, with its freight volumes rising by 3.5 per cent, whilst Dubai, in sixth, saw its volumes drop by 0.5 per cent in the period.

Doha remains one of the world’s fastest-growing cargo hub airports

UPS base Louisville is seventh with 0.8 per cent growth, Taipei in eighth place managed a 2.4 per cent growth, but ninth-placed Tokyo saw its cargo throughput decline by 3.2 per cent. Los Angeles, in tenth spot, enjoyed a 2.4 increase.

“Despite signs of weakness in the airfreight market, a number of airports stand out, with Doha, Qatar’s main hub, continuing to be one of the fastest-growing airports in the world for air cargo throughput and is also among the busiest. It moved from 16th to 11th in the rankings,” says an ACI statement.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Heathrow and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol only just made it into the top 20 league table, sitting in 19thand 20thplace, with a decline in cargo of 1.3 and 2.7 per cent, respectively.

Commenting on the current downwards trend in global hubs’ airfreight, Angela Gittens, director of ACI World, observes: “For cargo, the picture was not as good as passenger traffic [which was up by six per cent] against a backdrop of global trade tension. The ongoing trade war between the United States and several of its closest trade partners was a shock for the industry and global supply chains.”

Gittens’ concern for the throughput at airports in 2019, in a tense global trade environment, is mirrored by Alexandre de Juniac, director general and chief executive of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). “Air cargo markets contracted in January. This is a worsening of a weakening trend that started in mid-2018,” he warns.

“Unless protectionist measures and trade tensions diminish, there is little prospect of a quick rebound.”

The outlook is not getting any better. The air transport association’s figures for global airfreight markets shows that demand, measured in freight tonne kilometres, decreased by 1.8 per cent in January this year, in comparison with the same period in 2018. “This was the worst performance in the last three years,” declares an official IATA statement.

Below is the ACI list of the world’s top 20 international hub airports by cargo volumes:

Cargo growth declined last year at major hub airports

The world’s 20 busiest airfreight hubs infographic, courtesy of Airports Council International

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